Almost all the recent polling updates are looking bad for Mitt Romney. As the election inches ever nearer — only 46 days away now — the debates are looking like the last, best chance for him to pull even with Barack Obama — barring some sort of cataclysmic presidential gaffe or paradigm-shifting world event, although I can’t really imagine many international affairs crises that could pull the polls in Romney’s favor these days.
What this means is that Romney, who’s been preparing for the debates by using Rob Portman as a stand-in for Obama, is under enormous pressure to do some serious damage right from the start of the first presidential debate. And this brings me to yesterday evening’s Massachusetts senatorial debate between the incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Brown, who recent polls have shown trailing Warren, opened up with a sharp attack on Warren’s professed Native American roots, which were the subject of much controversy earlier this year. The intensity and repetitive nature of Brown’s accusations — especially contrasted to his “nice guy” persona — raise the specter of a campaign running in just-short-of-panic mode: as some noted, his internal polls may be showing a dire situation. Otherwise, his outburst would have been out of step with the tenor usually used in such an apparently close race.
And speaking of that debate — I only watched the first third or so, and was surprised at how ill-prepared and out of breath Brown looked — I couldn’t help but appreciate this pre-debate message from the debate’s moderator, the healthily mustachioed Jon Keller of WBZ Boston:
I will be asking each candidate to respond to the same question, but unless they totally ignore the actual question, I won’t be cross-examining them. That will be up to their opponent.
And it will be up to you to determine how well or poorly each candidate handled the question, how evasive they were or weren’t.
Sometimes when I see the political garbage some voters gladly swallow like it was hearty beef stew, I wonder at their ability to question authority and think for themselves.
But I digress. Going back to Romney, his significant polling deficits — while concerning for him — should serve as a major red flag to Obama’s debate prep team as well. Losing by several percentage points this late in the campaign season means Romney is desperate for a game-changer, and the only events he has significant control over are the debates. A reasonably solid but otherwise unmemorable performance will likely not tip the scales enough to get him to the Promised Land, so he’ll have to come out swinging.
Paradoxically, this leaves Obama in a somewhat vulnerable position. While his mandate in the debates will be to maintain a calm, presidential aura and avoid any costly gaffes, he’ll have to be ready for a virtually infinite number of potential surprises Romney might spring on him. The key for Romney’s camp will be to pick a line of attack that A) catches Obama off-guard and B) comes off as a credible line of attack and not desperate flailing. It’s going to be a fine line, which should make what might otherwise be a relatively boring 90 minutes or two hours of platitudes into something far more interesting.
- “Wishing On A Star”: The Debates Won’t Save Mitt Romney (mykeystrokes.com)
- Team Obama Thinks Romney May Have Upper Hand In Debate (personalliberty.com)
- Kerry Healey applauds Brown’s performance in Senate debate (wcvb.com)
- The Debates Won’t Save Romney (realclearpolitics.com)
- Romney’s no-win debate situation (dailykos.com)
- A Few Thoughts on the Upcoming Debates (newomenforchange.org)
- Scott Brown Mum On Romney While Warren Praises Obama During Debate (thinkprogress.org)